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He failed the birthday test

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  April 7, 2010 09:21 AM

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Good morning. It's chat day.

Q: My boyfriend and I: both in our 30s. Dating: 10 months. I live around Boston; he lives in a bordering state. We see each other mostly on weekends, alternating visits pretty regularly.

This past weekend it was my birthday. About a month or so ago, he asked me how I usually like to celebrate, as it was the first time either one of us was going to celebrate a birthday since meeting. I expressed that it's usually celebrated by dinner with friends, and since this wasn't a "big" number birthday, I anticipated the same thing this year. I also didn't want to tell him how to celebrate my birthday in case he had other ideas.

Rewind to the weekend before my birthday. We were talking about where we were going to spend the birthday weekend, either in his beach town or in Boston, and he suggested that we stay in Boston. He thought I would like to spend it here, and he was right -- I'd been traveling to his place the last few weekends for various reasons. So he said he would "make plans" and think of things for us to do to celebrate.

Fast forward to mid last week. He sent me an e-mail asking for dinner recommendations in Boston so that he could pick a restaurant that I liked. I sent him a few and he called and made a reservation for the first one on my list.

Fast forward to the birthday weekend. He came up Saturday about 4 p.m. We had dinner reservations for 8. He came in wishing me a Happy Birthday weekend with lots of enthusiasm. We went to dinner (location was my idea -- he paid) and drinks afterwards (location was also my idea -- I paid). We woke up this morning and I cooked breakfast and lunch this afternoon.

Here's my issue ... there was no card and no other gift (besides dinner). I told him the restaurant to go to and all he had to do was place the call. I'm feeling like he put in absolutely no other effort this weekend besides placing a call and reaching for his wallet. Granted, dinner was pricey, but I would have much rather had a home cooked meal and receive a small gift/card in order to have him make an effort versus spend money on an expensive dinner. Did I lead him astray in our earliest conversations about how I normally celebrate a birthday? Does he think buying dinner IS making an effort? Or shouldn't he know that he should AT LEAST show up with a card for his girlfriend’s birthday or do I have to teach him? I'm struggling because I feel pretty crappy about it and don't know if I should talk to him or let it go. It's NOT about the money, for me, it's about feeling special and loved and a little effort by him without my input would have meant a lot. Please help!

– Birthday Present Blues

A: I'm going to take this moment to make a Love Letters public service announcement:

1. If you want something for your birthday, say so. Unless you are dating someone who reads minds (Edward Cullen, a Vulcan, etc.).

2. Always do one thing more than you've been asked to do for a romantic partner's birthday. If he/she wants dinner, spring for dinner and a small present. If he/she has asked for a present, get a present and a balloon. As far as I know, no one ever got in trouble for doing too much.

Now back to you, BPB. Yes, you led your guy astray. Your fault. Sorry. You told him that this birthday wasn't a big deal. And yes, he thought that buying the expensive meal was making an effort. I give him a pass not only because you failed to communicate, but also because he wasn't planning the occasion on his home turf. I bet that if you had celebrated in his town, he would have had more ideas for how to celebrate.

It would have been cool if he had exceeded your expectations and one-upped your instructions, but he didn't. You didn't follow my first rule. He didn't follow my second.

I know you're upset, but I wouldn't even tell him you were disappointed. I would simply make a note to yourself to reestablish your expectations the next time a holiday comes around. Before you celebrate anything else -- his birthday, Christmas, etc. -- tell him that you'd like to do gifts. Not expensive gifts, but thoughtful gifts. Tell him that when it comes down to it, you really do like the process of being creative in the name of love. I think he'll understand and plan accordingly. At the end of the day, you would have rather had a less expensive dinner and a cool, unique gift and card. That's fine. But he's not a mind reader.

Readers? Who's at fault here? How can we tell someone that we would like to be celebrated without having to spell it out for them? Is a card required? Should she tell him she was disappointed, even if she takes the blame? Discuss.

– Meredith


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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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